MARCH 4: Campus Updates on Coronavirus Precautions
To the university community,
As many of you know by now, the global outbreak of the respiratory illness caused by coronavirus (termed COVID-19) is dynamic and rapidly evolving. University leaders and our medical staff at MTSU Student Health Services are closely monitoring the situation and we are continuing to take actions to keep our community safe and healthy. This update to the university community was precipitated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new travel notices, which I’ll detail further below.
As of this time, there are no known exposures to COVID-19 on the MTSU campus. While this is a serious public health situation, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have characterized the immediate health risk from COVID-19 as low for anyone who is unlikely to have been or to be exposed to the virus.
Impacts on MTSU Education Abroad
Since our last communication, the CDC has issued new travel notices related to health problems that might affect the safety of travelers abroad. The CDC identifies three levels of safety guidance:
- Warning Level 3: Avoid all non-essential travel
- Alert Level 2: Practice enhanced precautions those with chronic medical conditions and older adults should consider postponing travel
- Watch Level 1: Practice usual precautions
There are currently four countries – China, South Korea, Iran and Italy – with CDC Warning Level 3 advisories for COVID-19. Therefore, in line with federal government guidance, MTSU has suspended Education Abroad programming in those countries. Also, we are discouraging the university community from personal travel in these four countries during the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester. Non-essential, university-sponsored travel to these areas will not be approved during this period.
We currently have Education Abroad students in Japan, which the CDC has placed under Alert Level 2. These students have asked to finish their studies and we have relayed to them the importance of taking appropriate precautions. We will remain in contact with them and their host schools and we will reevaluate their participation in the program if conditions warrant.
As of today, we have not cancelled future Education Abroad activities for the current term, except for those that were planned for any of the areas currently designated at CDC Level 2 or above. However, I have asked our Education Abroad and MTSU Student Health Service staffs to monitor and report to our Crisis Management Team any changes in CDC level status for our planned destinations for the summer term. We will confirm trip approval at least 30 days before scheduled departure (however, we reserve the right to cancel any planned Education Abroad activities at any time if conditions warrant).
If we cancel an Education Abroad program, affected students may be offered partial reimbursement with proof of documented expenses. We also strongly recommend that students and faculty planning to engage in future Education Abroad activities consider purchasing appropriate trip insurance that would allow for sudden cancelations and could help mitigate the cost.
Personal Health Recommendations
Recommendations to protect from the coronavirus are very similar to those recommended to protect against the flu. On the advice of our medical staff, we suggest:
- Anyone who has not received a flu vaccine this season should consider doing so. Flu activity is high in the U.S. and expected to continue for weeks.
- Anyone who is ill, or thinks they may be ill, should stay home from class and from work and seek medical care, as necessary.
- Everyone should practice preventive actions to help stop the spread of germs
Here are some examples of preventative actions you should take:
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe
- Wash your hands often with soap and water following the CDC’s handwashing guidelines (https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing), or use an alcohol-based hand rub
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
- Stay home when you are sick
- Keep your immunizations up-to-date including an annual flu shot
During this time, it is vital that faculty not penalize ill students for missing class. Faculty with any questions about how to proceed should consult with their chairs, deans, or the provost.
Any faculty, students or staff who travel to areas at CDC Level 2 or above should carefully evaluate the risks and make decisions that are appropriate to their circumstances. Because older adults and those with chronic medical conditions may be at higher risk for severe disease, people in these groups should discuss travel with a healthcare provider and consider postponing non-essential travel.
If you travel to a CDC Level 2 or above area, you should take the following steps:
- Avoid contact with sick people.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
- Clean your hands often by washing them with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at 60% to 95% alcohol. Soap and water should be used if hands are visibly dirty. It is especially important to clean hands after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.
- Limit contact with others.
- Avoid traveling if you are sick.
If you spent time in a CDC Level 2 or above area during the past 14 days and feel sick with fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, you should:
- Seek medical advice. Call ahead before going to a doctor’s office or emergency room. Tell them about your recent travel and your symptoms.
- Do not travel while sick.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
- Clean your hands by washing them with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains 60%–95% alcohol immediately after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose. Soap and water should be used if hands are visibly dirty.
PLEASE NOTE: Those who travel to a CDC Level 2 or above area are asked to self-quarantine for 14 days before returning to the MTSU campus.
We are asking students and faculty currently participating or who plan to participate in one of our Education Abroad programs to remain in their host country and not travel to other countries with higher CDC risk levels. If a student or faculty member decides to travel out of their host country, they do so at their own risk.
Participating in Conferences
Organizers and sponsors of any on-campus academic conference or meeting must inform participants that anyone who has have been to an area rated at CDC Level 2 or above within 14 days prior to the event should not come to campus.
In addition, we are suspending all non-essential university travel for conferences and activities to areas rated at CDC Level 2 or above.
Remain True Blue
Lastly, there are members of our MTSU family whose home countries have been hit hard by the coronavirus. They understandably may be feeling anxiety about their friends and families. Some students may not be able to return home in the summer because of the outbreak, and we will work with them to understand and explore their options. We would ask that all of us remember to extend some extra kindness and support to those who are affected.
Our medical staff and senior leadership will continually evaluate this rapidly evolving situation based on the recommendations of local, state and federal public health authorities. We will provide additional communication as the circumstances require or when we receive additional public health guidance.
Sidney A. McPhee